Some so-called "rules" about winning the Kentucky Derby went by the wayside this year but another might have been coined: "The horse brings you to the Derby. You don't bring the horse."
That was the verdict of trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the Derby for the second time in three tries as Street Sense got through on the rail around the turn, passed eighteen rivals and went on to victory.
Hard Spun, who led the way for most of the 1 1/4 mile, held on gamely for second while previously undefeated Arkansas Derby winner Curlin made a late move to take third. Imawildandcrazyguy spoiled a lot of superfecta tickets by finishing fourth.
Street Sense, a Kentucky-bred colt by Street Cry, finished in a relatively slow 2:02.17 over a track that was rated fast after drying overnight.
Nafzger, who won in his first try with Unbridled in 1990, did not seem surprised that Street Sense won even though he was both fighting a "jinx" and bucking a conventional wisdom.
The "jinx" was that no winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile has ever come back to win the Kentucky Derby the following year. The conventional wisdom said Street Sense needed more than the two prep races Nafzger gave him this year.
Nafzger, however, knew what he was about. After Unbridled's thrilling victory, Nafzger was absent from the Run for the Roses until 1999, when Vicar dominated his Florida preps and "brought" his trainer to Louisville, only to get caught up in a pace duel and finish 18th.
From 1999 until 2007, none of his 3-year-olds gave him the right message.
"Like I said earlier -- and I mean it seriously -- this horse took us here," Nafzger said after Street Sense's victory. "Not only did he take us here, he took us here today. I've got all the faith in the world in this horse and I can't say enough about him."
In contrast to Nafzger, this year's superstar trainer, Todd Pletcher, brought five horses to the Derby -- each of them with credentials and each expected to make an impact. But Pletcher again came up empty and now is winless in the Derby after starting 19 horses in seven Derbies.
His best showing was Circular Quay, who finished sixth with a mild rally. Any Given Saturday was eighth, fading after putting in a bid on the turn. Sam P. went off at long odds and finished ninth. Scat Daddy finished eighteenth and Cowtown Cat, who surprisingly contested the lead, faded to finish last of 20.
"I'm not going to tell you I'm not disappointed," Pletcher said. "I am. I am disappointed that our horses didn't run better. But I said this before and I'll say it again: It isn't the end of the world if you don't win the Kentucky Derby. I still have a job to do and I'll be out in the morning doing it. I'm not going to go home tonight and cry. That's just not the way."
Doing just the opposite of crying was winning jockey Calvin Borel. Borel, jubilant almost to a fault, started his celebration after looking over his shoulder with 100 yards to run and finding no competition.
On to Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes two weeks down the Triple Crown trail.
Rags to Riches looked like the real thing, coming into the Oaks off three straight wins, including a dominating performance in the Santa Anita Oaks in her last outing. And the $1.9 million A.P. Indy filly just kept on going when the Churchill Downs gate opened. After patiently stalking the pace set by 2-year-old champion Dreaming of Anna, she shot to the lead at the top of the stretch and easily drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Octave, with High Heels another 3 1/4 lengths back in third. Dawn After Dawn completed the superfecta. Dreaming of Anna, winless this year, faded to finish sixth. Rags to Riches finished the 9 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:49.99 with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher also trains Octave. Pletcher said he was convinced Rags to Riches was the best horse in the race. But he said he worried about the off track and the No. 11 post position. "But she took care of all that," he said. "There was lots of adversity out there today but she overcame it all. The really good ones do that -- overcome all adversity." He said he had no regrets about not entering Rags to Riches against colts in the Kentucky Derby.
In other weekend racing:
Cockney Rebel hit high gear in the final quarter mile of Saturday's Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket in England and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Vital Equine. Dutch Art finished third, just in front of Duke of Marmalade. Cockney Rebel, an Irish-bred colt ridden by Olivier Peslier and trained by Geoff Huffer, went to the post at odds of 25-1 in the first of the British classics for 3-year-olds. Adagio, the lukewarm favorite, was never in the mix. Cockney Rebel, a son of the French-bred stallion Val Royal, finished in 1:35.28 on going rated "good to firm." He likely will be pointed for the Epsom Derby June 2.
Sky Conquerer stumbled at the start, then came from last of 10 to win Saturday's $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic by a nose over Brilliant. Danzon was third and the favorite, Einstein, failed to fire, finishing seventh. Sky Conquerer, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Sky Classic, ran the 1 1/8 mile on yielding turf in 1:49.01. Javier Castellano rode the chestnut for trainer Darwin Banach. Castelllano said the start was so rough, he was concerned about staying aboard. "I'm glad he stayed up," the rider said. "It worked out perfect because he had to stalk from off the pace and he finished good." Banach said Sky Conquerer, last year's Canadian male turf horse, is a "fantastic racehorse. ... He's had some bad trips in the past and he just pulled it out here."
Hystericalady stalked the pace in Saturday's $300,000 Humana Distaff, got the lead at the top of the stretch and easily held off the even-money favorite, Pussycat Doll, winning by 4 lengths. Carriage Trail finished third. Hystericalady, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.87 with Rafael Bejarano aloft. Winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he has no specific plans for Hystericalady other than the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park this fall. "We'll go back and plan a course of action to get us there," he said.
Saint Anddan stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Churchill Downs Stakes, went quickly to the lead turning for home and drew clear, winning by 2 lengths over the favorite, Ah Day. Will He Shine took third-place money. Saint Anddan, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of A.P. Indy, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.31 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Take the Ribbon rallied around four rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile and was just up in the final jump to win by a nose over Quite a Bride. Rich Fantasy, the leader into the stretch, held on for third while the favorite, Magnificent Song, finished fourth of five. Take the Ribbon, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Chester House, ran the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:36.89 for jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Silverinyourpocket put some green in the pockets of her backers by moving from far back in a field of 10 to win Saturday's $150,000 La Troienne Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1/2 length over Suaveness. Upcoming Story finished third. Silverinyourpocket, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Silver Deputy, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:30.14 with Calvin Borel warming up for his Derby win. Helen Pitts trains the filly. "The horses in front of her were coming back pretty quick because they went fast in the first part," Borel said. "When I asked her to finish, she did."
Wanderin Boy jumped out quickly to the lead in Friday's $100,000 Alysheba Stakes, extended the lead throughout and crossed the wire first, 4 1/4 lengths ahead of Half Ours. Student Council was third. Wanderin Boy, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred horse by Seeking the Gold, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:43.45 under Corey Nakatani. The Nick Zito trainee, making his first start this year, finished a well-beaten sixth in his final 2006 start, the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Asked why he picked an Oaks Day stakes for the horse's annual debut, Zito said, "Ah, why not? It's a big day. It's a big race. A lot of people."
Swingit swung it out around all seven rivals on the turn in Friday's $150,000 Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then was just up in the final jumps to beat Luna Dorada by a head, with Good Mood third. The favorite, Moonee Ponds, finished fourth. Swingit, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Victory Gallop, got the 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:43.99 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up for trainer Hal Wiggins. Swingit now has three wins from seven career starts. "She loves the outside and it worked out for us," Wiggins said.
Gaff stayed close to the leaders in the early furlongs of Friday's $150,000 Aegon Turf Sprint, powered to the lead at the top of the stretch and won off by 1 1/4 lengths over Ellwood and Jake. Congo King was third and the favorite, Unbridled Sidney, faded to sixth after leading early. Gaff is a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred horse by Maria's Mon, won the Taylor Special at Fair Grounds earlier this year sprinting on the Grass. He finished Friday's 5 yielding furlongs in 56.84 seconds. "He ran a perfect race," winning rider John Velazquez said. "He seemed to like the soft course."
Fiery Pursuit didn't need to pursue anyone in Friday's $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup for fillies and mares. Instead, the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Carson City jumped right to the lead and held on to win by a head over Asi Siempre. Baghdaria was third and the favorite, Indian Vale, finished fourth. She shipped into Churchill Downs from Oaklawn Park, where she won two of her three starts this spring. With Calvin Borel up for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Fiery Pursuit ran the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:44.11. "I told Calvin," said Lukas, "that we're probably overmatched in here and that he better send her to the front and keep her there as long as he can. ... I think he picked her up the last 100 yards and carried her." Added Borel, "Once she made the lead, she settled for me."
Duveen, an improving son of Horse Chestnut, sat right off the lead through most of Friday's $150,000 Crown Royal American Turf for 3-year-olds, went to the lead at the top of the lane and battled hard to win by 1/2 length over Whatasthescript. Early leader Jazz Quest held on for third, just another 1/2 length back Duveen, a Kentucky-bred colt, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.03 under Mark Guidry. The colt won both his starts earlier this year at Gulfstream Park before trainer Dale Romans shipped him north. "I told everybody a month ago that he would win this race," Guidry said.
Dream Rush rushed right to the front in Saturday's $200,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup for 3-year-old fillies, set a brisk pace and then shook off her four rivals in the lane, winning by 9 1/4 lengths over Lady Marlboro. Changeisgonnacome finished third. Dream Rush, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Wild Rush, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.04 under Eibar Coa.
Jiggs Coz stayed close to the lead in a tightly-packed field in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Queenston Stakes for 3-year-olds, closed four-wide around the turn and ran off to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Markdale. Dancer's Bajan finished third. Jiggs Coz, an Ontario-bred colt by Cozzene, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.42 with David Clark in the irons. Jiggs Coz was making his seasonal debut, with three preps for the Queen's Plate left on the agenda. "The horse has been training really well," said winning trainer Sid Attard. "David said to me that if he runs like he's been working, it should be no problem."
In Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Saskawea came from well back to post a significant upset, clearing the field in the stretch and finishing first, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Quiet Action. Palace Pier, the odds-on favorite, led briefly but faded to finish third. Saskawea, an Ontario-bred daughter of Stormy Atlantic, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.59. Justin Stein rode for trainer Steve Attard.
Fort Prado, after struggling in southern climes during the winter and spring, returned to home base and victory in Saturday's $100,000 Russell L. Reineman Illinois Owners Stakes. The 6-year-old son of El Prado made a four-wide move around the turn to take the lead and then held on gamely to best Toasted by 1/2 length. Lord Carmen was third. Fort Prado, with Eusebio Razo Jr. up for trainer Chris Block, got the 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:44.12. "This is a race we targeted over the winter," said Block. "We didn't do as well over the winter with him as we'd hoped but he shipped up well from the south."
Molengao came around rivals on the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and drew clear to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Porto Santo. Buzzards Bay was third after a bobbling start. Molengao, a 6-year-old, Brazilian-bred son of Royal Academy, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:42.86. Victor Espinoza rode for trainer Paulo Lobo.
In Sunday's $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap, River Savage took the lead turning for home and went on to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Cantabria. Ballado's Thunder finished third. River Savage, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by First American, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track with Omar Berrio up.
Calder Race Course
Wine Diva rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $75,000 Stonewall Stallions Georgia Oaks by 2 1/4 lengths over Snow Cone. Dantrelle Light pitched her way to third. Wine Diva, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Pine Bluff, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.12 on firm turf under Eduardo Nunez. "I think she probably can run on the dirt as well," said winning trainer Steve DiMauro.
Lil Red, hustled up to challenge for the lead, faded to finish third in a $5,000 starter allowance on Sunday. Hoofin' It, benefiting from the trip expected for Lil Red, came from off the pace to pick up the big check. Cameroon Kid, the other half of the pace duel, finished second, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner, with Lil Red a similar margin farther back in the show spot. The 1 mile on a fast track took 1:41 after a half in :50 3/5 and 6 furlongs in 1:15 1/5.
News and notes:
Two new members of the National Turf Writers Association Board: Thoroughbred Times News Editor Ed DeRosa and Chicago-based freelancer Vic Zast. Keven Modesti, columnist and sports editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, was re-elected at the NTWA annual meeting at Churchill Downs and will serve a two-year term ... Congratulations, too, to jockey Mark Guidry. The agin' Cajun notched his 5,000th career win Friday at Churchill Downs aboard Chippewa Trail. Guidry is the 21st North American jockey to hit the 5,000-win mark. He plans to retire this summer.